Friday, June 24, 2011

Don't throw away the beet greens

Most of us don't know what to do with beet greens - many of us think they are not edible. I used to be the same until one day a few years ago at the farmers market in Union Square a kindly farmer was appalled that I didn't want the tops and asked him to lop it off. There began my appreciation of beet greens. Normally I cook them by itself, but this time I decided to add the left over golden beet and purple beet from the beet salad of my previous post. It was absolutely noteworthy.

Beets and greens with garlic 
One small golden beet, peeled and finely chopped - Picture 1
One small purple beet, peeled and finely chopped
2 bunches of beet greens, cleaned, trimmed and cut into ribbons - Picture 2
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 or 3 dried red chilies, broken into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil

1. Heat a large skillet (at least 12 inches) with canola oil over medium high heat. Add the nigella seeds and dried red chilies and saute for 30 seconds. Add the minced garlic and saute for another 30 seconds. The garlic should not burn.

2. Now add the chopped beets and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute for 7 to 8 minutes till the beets look glossy like Picture 3. Add all the chopped greens (it will be a lot, but will shrink) over the beets and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to medium. The greens will begin to wilt after about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove lid and toss around well. Add another 1/2 teaspoon salt and continue to cook for another 7 to 8 minutes till the beets are tender and the greens are cooked. Raise the heat and cook for a few more minutes till the water released from the greens is dry. Serve warm.

Yields: 4 servings

Serving suggestions:
As a side with grilled fish and a simple rice pilaf with cumin seeds
As a side with steamed rice and a curry

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Golden beets and their common siblings

Most people think of beets as a winter vegetable, but the summer beets are small and tender unlike their winter cousins. Along with the usual purple beets, golden beets make their entrance in the summer with their tops. They taste the same as purple beets but make a very colorful presentation. The beet greens are also wonderful just simply sauteed with garlic, chili flakes and olive oil.

Beets and yogurt with garlic and herbs are a common pairing in Mediterranean cuisine. But when my husband ate it for the first time in ABC kitchen in New York, it was very unusual. It comes in this deep bowl with the dressing at the bottom and the colorful beets perched on top - an absolutely stunning presentation. Here is the version which my husband makes based on his take of what he ate there.

He boils the beets (since they are baby beets, they boil really quickly). Then he removes the skin and cuts them into wedges. Now comes his take i.e. the yogurt sauce, which has a hint of cumin, a little bit of honey, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a small glug of olive oil. Finally, he tops them with chopped pistachios for a textural contrast. And there you have it - a great interpretation!

Beets with yogurt balsamic dressing
6 to 8 beets depending on size (small ones are the best)

1 cup Greek yogurt (I like Chobani fat free - it has a little bit more tang than Fage)
1/2 teaspoon ground toasted cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons extra virgin good quality olive oil

a handful of roasted shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

1.  Cook the beets in boiling salted water for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size. It is best to have the same size so that they cook evenly. The beets should be cooked but not mushy. Drain and set aside to cool. Once cool, using a kitchen towel, remove the skin and cut into wedges.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt and mix all the ingredients for the dressing into the yogurt.

3. Arrange the beet wedges in a serving bowl and fold in the yogurt dressing. Garnish with chopped pistachios.

Serves 2 to 3.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grilled potatoes and tomatoes with basil vinaigrette

Summer is synonymous with grilling but for some of us who don't have backyards, we try to emulate the same at home. A gas top grill pan does a great job and even creates the smoke in your kitchen.

I had a bag of Melissa's baby dutch potatoes which were calling out to be cooked before they started growing shoots. And there was no better way to pair them up but with colorful tomatoes and basil, both of which are available in abundance at this time of the year.

Crispy grilled potatoes with firm tomatoes and a tangy basil vinaigrette made a super delicious appetizer/salad.

Grilled dutch baby potatoes

Grilled Tomatoes

Grilled potatoes and tomatoes with basil vinaigrette
24 oz bag of Melissa's baby dutch potatoes (any thin skinned waxy new potatoes will work)
2 medium sized firm tomatoes (heirloom tomatoes would be super), sliced 1/4 inch thick
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water till they are just tender but not breaking apart - should take around 15 to 20 minutes depending on the type of potato. Drain and keep aside. When cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Toss with olive oil, and salt.

2. Preheat a grill pan and place the potato slices in a single layer. Cook over medium high heat for 5 to 7 minutes on each side till you get nice dark grill marks.  Remove and arrange on a serving platter.

3. Place the sliced tomatoes on the preheated grill in a single layer as well. Sprinkle some salt and pepper and cook on each side for a minute or so just to get grill marks. You don't want the tomatoes to break down - they should remain firm. Remove from the grill and arrange over the grilled potatoes.

4. Drizzle with the basil vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve the leftover vinaigrette on the side if there is any leftover.

Serves 4

Basil Vinaigrette
1 1/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 - 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup tightly packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 small garlic clove finely chopped

Combine all of the above in a small blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Makes about 1/3 cup.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sprouted Brown lentils

In India lentils form a big portion of our diet. We eat various kinds of lentils - either whole with skin, split without skin or sprouted with skin. Moong dal or green lentils with skin is the most common form of sprouted lentils. Masoor dal or pink lentils with skin is also great sprouted. When they are with the skin they are brown - the pink color appears only after the skin is removed.

The process of sprouting is very simple. The lentils need to be soaked in 2 inches of water overnight. Then drain all the water and cover the lentils with cling wrap and keep in a warm place for about 8 to 12 hours. They should start sprouting as in the picture below. Once they start to sprout they are ready to cook. If you are not cooking them the same day, then they should be refrigerated.

Sprouted Brown Lentils

Sprouted Brown Lentils with tomatoes and onions
1/2 cup dry brown lentils
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1.  Soak the lentils in cold water overnight. Drain the water and cover the container with cling wrap and keep in a warm place to sprout. Check after about 8 to 10 hours. Once it starts to sprout, they are ready to cook. Depending on the temperature they may take a longer time to sprout.

2. Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds. When the seeds pop, add the chopped onion and the minced jalapeno pepper and  saute over medium heat till they are light brown. Add the sprouted lentils and turmeric powder to the pan and saute for 1 minute. Add the chopped tomato and mix well. Add salt and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook over medium low heat at a simmer, till the lentils are soft but still retain their shape. If the water is drying out and lentils are still hard, add a couple of more tablespoons of water and continue to cover the cook till the lentils are soft. Remove the cover and toss well and cook till there is not much water left and the mixture is glossy.

3.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Serves 4

Serving suggestions:
1. For an Indian meal, serve it along with a vegetable or meat curry and chapati's
2. It is great served over pasta. If you are going to serve over pasta, then you might want to leave the mixture wet so that it forms a sauce. Orrechiette or fusili make a good combination.
3. You could serve it as a side with roasted potatoes and pan fried fish.

Roasted eggplant dip

Summer eggplants are sweet since they have a lesser number of seeds. The bitterness of the eggplants lies in the seeds. Hence this is the time of the year to eat as much eggplant as possible.

This eggplant recipe is very simple and versatile. I roast an eggplant and then mix it with sauteed onions and tomatoes to create a delicious dip. Serve it with pita chips, as a topping for bruschetta, stuffing for pita breads, sandwich spread, over grilled polenta, or as a side with grilled meat or fish. In the picture you will see that even though these eggplants have lesser number of seeds, they are still quite visible. If you don't like the seeds, you can remove the entire cluster after roasting the eggplant.

Roasted Eggplant Dip

One large eggplant
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet and place it on the center rack of the oven. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes turning it after every ten minutes, till the skin is charred and coming away from the flesh. Remove from the oven and cool. (Or you could roast it over the fire if you like a smoky flavor like I do).

3. Once cooled, use a kitchen towel to scrape off the charred skin. Cut off the top and smash the roasted eggplant with a potato masher and set aside.

4. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet with canola oil and add the chopped onion and minced jalapeno (if using). Saute over medium high heat till the onions are browning at the edges. Add the chopped tomato, salt and the mashed eggplant and cook stirring occasionally till the tomatoes have completely broken down and the eggplant mixture looks dry. Remove from the heat and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Brussel sprouts with a crunch and a kick

Brussel sprouts have gotten a bad rap for a long time due to overcooking which releases a sulfurous odor. Also, overcooking results in the vegetable losing its anti-cancer properties. Steaming them for a maximum of 6 to 7 minutes helps to retain these benefits while cooking them. Roasting is the best way to cook them, turning them from ordinary to delicious. 

In this recipe, I have added cranberries for some additional sweetness and pecans for crunch. The inclusion of a pinch of cayenne gives the dish that special kick.

Brussel Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans
 1lb brussel sprouts
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
A few grindings of black pepper
1/3 cup roasted salted pecans
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Mix the cranberries and salted pecans with maple syrup and cayenne pepper and set aside.

3. Trim the brussel sprouts and slice them vertically into two pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in the middle rack for 10 minutes and then turn them to brown the other side.After 15 more minutes put in the cranberries and pecans and mix them with the brussel sprouts. Remove after about 5 minutes and serve warm.

Serves 4

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Farmers market turnips

Baby white turnips with tops have begun to appear at the farmers markets in New York. I really like the sweet and pungent taste of the turnips. The tops are a little bitter, but sauteed with garlic and chili flakes, they make a great side. If you like broccoli rabe, you will love turnip greens.

These baby turnips are sweet and juicy and are great in a salad, but today I am cooking them the way my mom does with a little twist. She uses cumin seeds as her go to spice, but I like to change things around. Indian cuisine has so many different spices that it is almost unfair not to take advantage of it. Each of these spices has a health benefit as well. So, for this recipe I am using ajwain (an Indian spice akin to thyme) and is great for digestion. Combined with peas which also goes well with ajwain, it makes for a good dish to add to the repertoire of Indian side dishes. We typically eat it along with a lentil and chapatis (Indian whole wheat tortillas).

Trimmed turnips

Cleaned and chopped turnips

Turnips with ajwain and peas 

One bunch turnips - about 10 to 12 of differing sizes
1/2 cup frozen organic peas
3/4 teaspoon ajwain (carom seeds) - they taste a bit like thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup finely minced fresh coriander leaves (optional)

1. Keep 1/2 inch of the tops attached to the turnips and chop the rest of the greens and set aside to be cooked another day. The little green bits at the end makes a pretty presentation.

2. Wash the turnips well and scrub to ensure there is no mud especially near the tops. Using a paring knife, peel the brown buts and cut the turnips into sixths or quarters depending on the size.

3. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet with canola oil. Add the ajwain seeds and saute for 20 seconds. Add the chopped turnips and 1 teaspoon salt and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the coriander powder, cumin and cayenne and 1/4 cup water and cook covered for 5 to 8 minutes till the turnips are almost cooked. Add the peas and continue to cook till the turnips are completely cooked. They should still retain their shape.

4. Garnish with coriander leaves if using and serve warm.

Serves 3.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paneer and shahjeera - a royal match

Paneer is Indian cottage cheese and shahjeera is a spice which in India is known as Royal Cumin due to its strong cumin flavor. Other parts of the world know it as caraway seeds. In India, shahjeera is used mostly in rice dishes such as Biryani for its strong aroma. The combination of paneer and shahjeera is great because shahjeera adds a special flavor to the usual paneer and peas curry.

Paneer is best made at home, where you can control the fat content of the cheese. The ones available in the Indian grocery stores in America are mostly made with powdered milk and have a very rubbery consistency. I make mine with 2% milk.

Making paneer at home is a very simple process. The milk is brought to a boil and then the heat is turned off. The boiled milk is curdled with yogurt and the curds are drained through a cheesecloth and hung till it reaches a nice soft consistency and the whey is no longer dripping. Place the cheesecloth ball on a plate and press with something heavy till it reaches the shape of a disk as in the first picture below.
Paneer with shahjeera

1 quart 2% milk (makes about 6 oz of paneer)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon shahjeera (black cumin) seeds
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 medium tomato chopped
3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1/2 cup organic frozen peas
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1. Bring the milk to a boil in  heavy saucepan. As soon as the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Whisk the yogurt in a small bowl and add the whisked yogurt to the boiled milk. Stir the milk slowly to incorporate the yogurt. After a few seconds the milk will begin to curdle. They whey will separate from the curds. If this does not happen, add a couple of tablespoons more of yogurt.

2. Drain the curdled milk though a cheesecloth and hang for 10 minutes for all the whey to drain out. Now pat the curds into a disk and place on a plate or board. Then place another plate on top with a heavy weight on it like a can of beans. Let it sit for 10 minutes till the disk is uniform and it still moist but not dripping. Cut the paneer into diamond shapes or 1/2 inch squares like in picture 2.

3. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Add the shah jeera and let it cook for 30 seconds. Then add the chopped onion and saute for 2 minutes till it is soft. Add the paneer and continue to saute till the paneer has acquired a light golden color like in picture 3.

4. Add the chopped tomato, peas, cayenne powder, and salt and toss well. Cook covered till the tomato has broken down and form a thick sauce. Sprinkle garam masala if using. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with chapati or pita.

Serves 3